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Totally Free At A High Cost

Common sense would seem to tell us that a thing cannot be both costly and free at the same time. If I must pay a high price for something, then it is not free; if it is free, then I am not required to pay for it. This commonsensical observation, however, leads to a theological puzzle: do the promises of the gospel come to us for free or at great cost? The Bible uses both kinds of language. Costly and free—the gospel is both.

Salvation is totally free in one sense and highly costly in another, and we must understand both senses in order to understand the Christian life. Salvation is free in that we can do nothing—we can pay nothing—to earn our acceptance from God. We are evil, but God accepts us anyway, without reservation. We are guilty before the court of God’s justice, yet He frees us from paying what we owe. God is not waiting to accept us until we meet some standard; we do not meet the standard, and yet He blesses us now. If we do not understand how freely and graciously God is acting toward us, then we can fall into self-righteousness and/or despair: self-righteousness because we have forgotten that we do not deserve God’s kindness; despair because we have forgotten how freely willing God is to overlook our guilt.

Yet, salvation is also costly, and we must understand that as well. By its very nature, to believe the gospel is a huge shift in our lives. To believe that Jesus died for our sins costs us our self-satisfied belief that we are good people. To believe that God is willing to forgive us costs us our bitter unwillingness to forgive others. To believe that the true riches are found in the kingdom of God costs us our delusion that money matters. To ask Jesus to be on our side may cost us the approval of others. If our faith is genuine, then it cannot help but confront us with some hard truths and hard choices. This confrontation is not optional; what Jesus offers is not what the world offers, and to have them both is impossible. To deny this is to distort our picture of faith itself.

[This edited excerpt is from “Costly and Free” by Ron Julian. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]

 

Prepared for the Wilderness

Just before Jesus went into the desert, he was baptized by John the Baptist, at which time the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and a voice out of heaven said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This event must have been on Jesus’ mind when he went into the desert.

The Gospel of Matthew contains a description of Jesus’ temptations by the devil at the end of Jesus’ stay in the desert. Much has been written about this incident, but a particular aspect of Matthew’s account is intriguing. I cannot help but wonder what Jesus was doing for the forty days that he spent in the desert before he was tempted. Since the account does not tell us what he was doing, we can only speculate. Several clues, however, suggest a probable answer.

At the end of Jesus’ forty-day stay in the desert, the devil made three attempts to coax Jesus into sinning. Jesus responded to each temptation by quoting an Old Testament passage—all from just a few chapters in the book of Deuteronomy. This suggests that Jesus had a fresh recollection of this small section of text, that he had spent at least some of his time in the desert reflecting on the meaning and significance of these few chapters.

What did Jesus learn from his reflection on the book of Deuteronomy? His answers to the devil are from the first section of the book that encourages the people of Israel to obey God’s commandments.

The encouragement to obey God is anchored in God’s history with the people of Israel as they made their way through the wilderness. Throughout their forty years of wandering, God was looking after his people. He guided them, provided them with food and water. But theirs was not an easy or carefree life. The hard times were designed to test and develop their faith. By learning to cling to God in good times and bad, they would learn to rely on God as the only firm anchor-point in life. Through this process, the Israelites were to learn that a meaningful and fulfilling life can only come through obedience to and faith in God. This is what Jesus learned by reading Deuteronomy, and this instruction served him well.

[This edited excerpt is from “What Would Jesus Read?” by David Crabtree. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]

 

The Fundamental Purpose of Life

Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life (PDL) is  a publishing phenomenon by anyone’s standards. Publishers Weekly called it “the bestselling hardback in American History.” I have a mixed reaction, however, to its popularity. Some of the ideas in PDL are very good. However, in my mind the book’s serious flaws outweigh the good things; when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong.

 

PDL throws a blizzard of verses at its readers, mostly drawn from a variety of broad paraphrases like the Message Bible and the Living Bible. The cumulative effect of this proof-texting approach is ultimately misleading and harmful. Let me illustrate how this approach can go terribly wrong. Imagine that a verse in the Bible speaks of a “great battle.” A modern paraphrase wants to jazz it up and make it more powerful, so it translates the phrase “great battle” as “the mother of all battles.” Now imagine an author comes along and quotes the translation: “The Bible often uses the imagery of motherhood, as for example in the verse which speaks of ‘the mother of all battles.’” Do you see the problem? This fictional author quotes “the Bible” by quoting this paraphrase and then makes his argument based on the part the translator added for effect.

PDL, through the use of misleading proof-texting, does a great disservice to the millions of Christians reading the book. Even worse, though, is the theological confusion that permeates the book. PDL often shifts the emphasis from choosing eternal life to improving my experience here and now—not “I will find eternal life” but “I will find my true self and how to really live”; not “I will be justified before God and be saved” but “I will make God happy.” The Purpose-Driven Life has some good things to say, but it has not said the most important thing: that the fundamental purpose of my life in this world is to choose life over death. At stake in how I live my life is not whether I have a more or less fulfilling experience as a Christian but whether, in spite of my weaknesses and sin, I persevere in being a disciple of Jesus and so find eternal life.

[This edited excerpt is from “Examining the Purpose-Driven Life” by Ron Julian. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]

 

The Ninevites and the Redemption of Creation

During Gutenberg College’s Summer Institute, I made the point that redemption was for all of creation and not just man, and I gave biblical references to support my claim. After my talk, Jack Crabtree pointed out to me that I had missed an event in the Old Testament also making that point. When Jonah proclaimed that Nineveh would be overthrown in forty days, the people of Nineveh responded by believing God. When the king heard about it, he made his own proclamation. I will quote the whole of Jonah chapter three to provide the context (bold is mine for emphasis):

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the King of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat on the ashes. And he issued a proclamation and said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?”

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.

The king understood that God’s judgment for their wickedness would affect both man and beast. As a result, the king ordered that the animals must fast as well as the people. We also learn in the last line of Jonah (chapter 4) that the king was right; God did have in mind that the judgment of animals as well as man was in view in Nineveh:

And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?

While there is much that I do not understand in the book of Jonah, the king’s proclamation is a clear acknowledgment that in Nineveh the judgment of God would affect man and beast together, and God confirmed the king’s judgment (Jonah 4:11). While this example only shows the situation at one point in time, it is an instance certainly supporting the idea that in God’s mind judgment and redemption of man and creation are linked. Thanks, Jack!

 

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